Bridget Gleeson writer + illustrator

California love

On most Lonely Planet trips, I’m a stranger in a strange land. But here in California, I have a gym membership, happy hour dates, and friends with boats.

It’s partly because the geographic area I’m covering (San Diego and Orange County) is small. When I covered Patagonia for the Argentina book, for example, I never back-tracked – I just kept going from point A to B to C, studying the bus schedule and trying to figure out where I’d be sleeping the next night. In southern California, I don’t have to strategize too much; I just move back and forth between friends’ and family members’ apartments on the Pacific Surfliner train. A lot of the book research I have to do involves checking out beach hotels and taco stands that I can get to by riding a hot-pink bicycle along the coast.

A few of my favorite things on this particular visit to SoCal (as they say) –

Working out with the Fitpass Network. A monthly membership in the system allows flexible access to fitness studios and gyms all over San Diego. My sister and I have been going to Zumba classes several times a week – the first one we attended at a dance studio in La Jolla was fantastic. This morning we rolled out of bed at seven for a New Age-y yoga/dance class in Pacific Beach. Next up, kickboxing. (Goodbye, treadmill.)

Watching the surfers practicing at the Wave House in Mission Beach.

Riding a pair of vintage beach cruisers to a cozy French dinner with my friend at Newport Beach’s Pescadou Bistro. We had mussels and pinot noir. Très romantique!

When I announced to my friends and family and Lonely Planet was sending me to Disneyland, a few of them decided to come along for the ride. We ate our way through the park – churros, ice cream, Mickey Mouse-shaped beignets, french fries, pickles. But the real highlight was seeing a special tribute screening of Captain EO, the 1986 3D short film starring Michael Jackson and directed by Francis Ford Coppola. (“Hooter! Listen! The Command considers us a bunch of LOSERS!”)

A Moroccan feast with friends at Kous Kous in the Hillcrest neighborhood of San Diego.

Riding the antique roller coaster in Belmont Park, San Diego. Pretty ocean views from the top of the first hill.

The Lab, Orange County’s ‘anti-shopping mall.’ Cool recycled art installations, and I picked up three vintage sundresses too.

After that, I tried my first-ever mint julep at Memphis Cafe next door – the place looks like Mad Men meets the deep South.

(Again, not what I’d expect in Orange County. But I’ll take it.)